Due to the political turmoil in Ukraine, Kyiv has lost some of its tourist appeal in recent years. But the ancient Ukrainian capital – and the host of the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest – is completely safe to visit and awaits curious travellers to unveil its rich and colourful history. Among the most important cultural centres of eastern Europe, offering superb architecture and a cool foodie scene, Kyiv remains one of the most underrated cities on the continent.
Legends of Andriyivsky Uzviz
Nicknamed ‘the Montmartre of Kyiv’, this street is one of the cultural gems of the Ukrainian capital. Every house here can tell a story, every corner hides a legend. With numerous galleries and workshops, Andriyivsky Uzviz has always been the melting pot of Kyiv’s artists, luring them with its bohemian atmosphere and attractive hilly setting. Here you can admire the gracious architecture of St Andrew’s Church and buy handmade souvenirs from one of the local artisans.
Delicious Ukrainian cuisine
Ukrainian food is not only very tasty, but also quite affordable. When in Kyiv, you simply can’t refrain from trying traditional Ukrainian varenyky (filled dumplings) and the legendary borshch (red beetroot soup). For a genuine Kyiv urban snack, try the perepichka (sausage in a fried bun) at Kyivska Perepichka near Teatralna metro station, and taste a magnificent cinnamon roll at Bulochnaya Yaroslavna bakery on busy Yaroslaviv Val street.
City of Golden Domes
This proud nickname reflects the architectural splendour of Kyiv’s churches, as well as the prominence of the Ukrainian capital for Orthodox Christians. Visitors are easily amazed by the beauty of the Kyevo-Pecherska Lavra monastery complex and the grandeur of St Sophia’s Cathedral, both Unesco World Heritage sites. You can spend days admiring the medieval frescoes and baroque facades, descending into holy dungeons and watching stunning panoramas from the bell towers.
Outdoors fun along the Dnipro
Kyiv spreads along the wide Dnipro river, which divides the city into the right and left banks. Numerous islands in between offer a great range of outdoor activities. Truhaniv island is the perfect spot for relaxing walks or cycling with beautiful river views. During the summer, Hydropark becomes leisure central with sandy beaches, water activities and fancy bars. You can also take a boat cruise from the River Port (rpea.com.ua) for spectacular views of Kyiv hills.
Gigantic Soviet monuments
Kyiv was the third-largest city of the Soviet Union, so it’s no wonder that Soviet heritage in the form of colossal apartment blocks, socialist-realist frescoes and bizarre modernist buildings is found pretty much everywhere in the Ukrainian capital. But there’s one structure you simply can’t miss: the enormous Rodina Mat (meaning ‘Motherland’) memorial, part of the Museum of the Great Patriotic War. With a height of 102m, it’s a distinctive element of Kyiv’s skyline.
Rich entertainment scene
Kyiv is a vibrant capital with a wide array of events taking place daily. Fans of classical music can enjoy heavenly notes in the unique House of Organ and Chamber Music inside the St Nicholas Cathedral, which was designed by Wladyslaw Horodecki. Ballet enthusiasts will be enthralled by performances of the world-renowned National Ballet of Ukraine at the Taras Shevchenko National Opera Theatre. Kyiv nightlife is a microcosm of its own, with choices ranging from hipster Closer (facebook.com/closerkiev) to dynamic Carribean Club (caribbean.com.ua).
One of Europe’s largest open-air museums
The Pyrohovo Museum of Folk Architecture is a perfect place to explore how Ukrainians lived over the centuries. Exhibiting 300 examples of folk architecture from all parts of Ukraine and more than 40,000 household items and objects of traditional culture, Pyrohovo is a one-of-a-kind outdoor museum experience. It also regularly hosts open-air festivals to showcase the old Ukrainian rural lifestyle.
Ukrainian Art Nouveau
Kyiv’s eclectic cityscape makes it a perfect destination for architecture lovers. On a single street, you can find baroque buildings next to Soviet-style apartment blocks, or elegant Art Nouveau palaces overlooking newly built skyscrapers. Kyiv’s so-called Modern architectural style is the equivalent of European Art Nouveau; its pioneer was Wladislaw Horodecki, sometimes referred to as ‘the Gaudí of Kyiv’. His architectural genius gave birth to the stunning Neo-Moorish Actor’s House and one of the most enigmatic Kyiv landmarks, the splendid House of Chimeras.
Monumental Kyiv metro
From colourful frescoes depicting medieval Kiev Rus heritage at Zoloti Vorota station to white marble busts of scientists and poets at Universytet station – not to mention the labyrinth of Soviet underground transfer passages – Kyiv metro is truly impressive. It’s also record-breaking, with Arsenalna station considered the world’s deepest. Both the immense heritage of Ukraine’s Soviet past and the main transport of city dwellers today, Kyiv metro is a curious attraction and a true highlight of the Ukrainian capital.
Kyiv often tops the lists of the most affordable European destinations, particularly in recent years – and for good reason. For example, one metro ride will cost you about 0,15 euros, while opera tickets start from just 1 euro. Food and accommodation costs are also much lower than in central and western Europe especially since the devaluation of the hryvnya, which makes the Ukrainian capital a very tempting budget-friendly destination.